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Depression - 9/25/2014

I absolutely loved Robin Williams. I laughed at his manic antics. I was tearfully moved by the pathos in Mrs Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting, and emotionally seduced by the humanness and sensitivity displayed in Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. He was an individual you would be fortunate to meet just once in a lifetime; a sensitive, kind but sad person who caused several generations of Americans to laugh, cry, think and feel.

On a personal level, his death truly affected me. I felt sadness over the void created by his absence, knowing that it will be a very long time, if ever, before anyone can adequately fill his shoes. But I also felt angry, because in my mind’s eye, he still had so much more to share with others in the world. I think he cheated all of us of his future presence, and, even worse, sent a message to hundreds of thousands of other emotionally hurting human beings that life isn’t worth living and that, in order to escape your pain, it’s okay to commit suicide.

In the course of my life, I’ve had far too many opportunities to get in touch with suicide, both professionally and personally. I believe that it’s okay, even normal, to think about or consider it, but to do it is something else. It’s easy for me to understand someone with a terminal illness who doesn’t want to be a guinea pig in a research program, or suffer any longer, and chooses to leave the world of their own volition. It’s harder to appreciate someone running from life to alleviate their temporary hurts. It certainly isn’t the message that I would have had Robin Williams leave as his legacy. I’m sure that he didn’t consciously want to say to the myriad of human beings who admired him, that the solution to your problems is to run from them. What I would have had him say, instead is “Don’t choose suicide. It is a permanent solution to what is too often a temporary problem.” But Robin couldn’t say that, because he ran from his own pain all his life.

From the outside looking in, he had everything in the world to live for. You wouldn’t have thought money was a problem, but several news services said he recently had to put his home up for sale. Although he experienced enormous success professionally, and had the respect of countless admirers, he never benefitted from it. He was adept at making other people laugh, but he wasn’t able to laugh, himself. Instead, throughout life, he emotionally ran from the pain he felt he experienced in childhood, as evidenced by his frequent “humorous” reference to “having been raised by the maid.” What he didn’t realize was that none of us can outrun, change or fix what we feel is broken in us. But, if we can recognize and accept it, we can learn to live well in spite of it. Sad to say, however, similar to Robin Williams, a large number of individuals will continue to escape their depression through suicide. The irony is that, in the end, they will wind up contributing to the depression experienced by everyone who loved them.  Robin Williams went for and talked about getting treatment for his addictions, but I doubt that he ever fully faced or openly spoke about the hurt and depression that existed inside him. Probably because our society views facing your addictions as a sign of strength, but sees depression as a weakness. That distinction says to me that people don’t commit suicide because they can’t live with their worlds, they do so because they can’t live with or face themselves. Perhaps they all need to be told “Do not run from your hurts, or attempt to find solace through addictive behaviors. Do the opposite, embrace and run toward your hurts. Accept you with them.   Console and comfort yourself because of them, and learn that you’re okay in spite of them.”

So, if you think you’re depressed, please talk to others about your feelings. Tell them if you have suicidal thoughts. Ask yourself, “Do I experience a lack of interest in activities, people and work, have feelings of guilt, shame, or a sense of estrangement from others, have difficulty concentrating, experience  problems with sleep patterns and sex, either getting too little, or wanting too much?”  Lastly, “Do I experience any psycho-motor or intellectual dysfunctions, i.e., my memory is bad, or it’s so good that I remember every hurt I ever experienced?” They’re all symptoms of depression and, at times, I’ve experienced every one of them. So, you need to be careful how you interpret how you are.

To be diagnosed with a major depression, you need to consider the degree of your symptoms. You aren’t pathologically depressed, because you’re disappointe4d in your marriage, lost money in the stock market, or occasionally feel sad. For example, if I said to you, “I love pancakes and waffles. They’re my favorite foods”, you might say to me, “Me, too. Why don’t we go to a restaurant and order some?” I might respond, “No, let’s go to my house. I have suitcases full of them.”  At that point, you should become a little wary of being involved with me. A stack of pancakes at a restaurant is one thing. A suitcase full is quite another. Sometimes, you just have a right to be depressed.

So, if you have these symptoms, don’t ignore them. Go to a professional. Get a differential diagnosis. something to help you to live and get from life what you genuinely deserve. Do so by leaning on others, going to therapy, or getting medication, if you need it.  Know that help is available. There are numerous local and national support groups for depression, bipolar and suicidal individuals. In Houston, you can call The United Way, 713-Hotline, the Houston Mental Health Association, Suicide Hotline, or Alcoholics Anonymous. But, whatever you do, don’t tell the world or yourself that life isn’t worth living. It just isn’t worth living your way.

At the same time, know that your depression doesn’t give you the right to hurt others, to condemn the world or God, to act inappropriately, excessively, hostilely, or pathologically. Most of all, trust me when I say that, 1) there are in every one of you positive qualities that are worth saving, 2) there are many contributions you can still make in the world, once you accept you as you are, and 3) just your honest, emotional presence in the lives of those who love you helps them to feel loved, valued and worthwhile. Lastly, learn from the depression that drove Robin Williams and so many other people to suicide. Do something to help yourself so you can then be around to help others.

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